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The Fall of the House of Interplay

I once heard that dreams don’t die - We kill them. That is not true. Dreams do die and with them a little part of ourselves. Do I sound bitter? I am bitter and with good cause. I worked for the game publisher, Interplay Entertainment, as their web application engineer (a.k.a. web developer). I finally moved out of Information Technology into to game design, only to have my dreams crumble into dust.

I have spent my entire life involved in some fashion with games. I have worked selling them, writing supplements, creating adventures, even testing them. I've long dreamed of seeing my creations come to life on the computer screen, but moving into computer game design is tough. You need your name on two released titles just to be considered to get your name on a released title. It is that catch-22 thing.

If you search around the web, you can find references to Interplay Entertainment and much has been bandied about what happened to it. Why did this happen. How did Interplay crumble? Nobody, other than Herve himself will ever know the full details. Sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and I'll spin you the tale of Interplay's final breath.

On one bright, sunny mid-April day, the CEO/CFO of Interplay, Herve Caen informed the entire company that he lacked the funds to make payroll. He asked us to be patient, and after two weeks, he had enough to pay the first part of April payroll, but not enough to finish out the month, leaving him 2 weeks behind. When May rolled around, payroll we met on time, but still two weeks behind.
On the mid-may payroll, Herve declared he didn't have the money to meet payroll, nor did he have enough to even pay the back due. He then informed everybody that even though medical/dental/optical had continued to be deducted, it had been canceled for non-payment, as was all Internet activity. Interplay went dark (from an internet standpoint).

By the beginning of June, the landlord of Interplay's rental property grew tired Herve's broken promises for payment and completed eviction proceedings started months earlier. Days later the California State Labor Board shuttered Interplay for non-payment of workers compensation insurance. Not far behind was the IRS, it was just a matter of who got there first. Interplay was gone.

There was never any notice of termination, only promises of future payment and pleadings to be patient. Herve continued to spout out promises of the company moving to new offices and reopening. I grit my teeth and hoped for the best, but eventually even the brightest star of hope dims. I accepted the fact the company was gone and started searching for work. Like many desperate people, I looked for hope everywhere, and one of those sources of hope, was the back payroll Interplay had promised and its possible reopening. I wanted Interplay to bounce back. I hated looking for work outside the game industry. I wanted that job creating fantastic works of fantasy and adventure.

After several months, money arrived via a bank-to-bank transfer, i.e. direct deposit, but it was far less than my normal paycheck. I tried to reach somebody, anybody to explain this. Calls and emails to executives went unanswered. After contacting several other employees, we came to the conclusion that payroll system had paid all salary employees based on their attendance hours. There was no pay stub to confirm this, nor was there ever any type of verifiable attendance system. Overtime, if any was not calculated, nor was time for employees who worked within a telecommuting system. Interplay did not have punch cards and a time clock. For those that quit and had accrued vacation hours, no compensation ever arrived.

Why did Interplay crumble into dust? As I stated previously, we will never know, but Herve did make some major missteps that give us a hint.

Herve was not a gamer, nor much of a businessman. In the fall, prior to Interplay's closure. The company produced two, nearly identical products, one of which was ready prior to the Christmas shopping season. Although he had never played either one, Herve held back the completed product back until the first of the year when the second product would be ready, on the justification that they were different enough and they complemented each other. With such a view, it was obvious to everyone, that he had not played either. As a result, Interplay had no products for that Christmas season, resulting in a major loss of revenue.

Herve also failed to understand his consumer base. He came from making games for consoles (xbox, Playstation, gamecube) and pushed Interplay product line toward that market instead of staying with PC titles that Interplay had been renowned for. He also tried to milk a popular title with cheaply made games that had little to do with the original product, other than a similar name. Interplay's customers were not fooled, they knew crap when they saw it. Herve's games did poorly compared to titles created prior to his arrival.

Herve also made other poor decisions, although minor compared to the above, no doubt they contributed to Interplay's downfall. In a stroke of utter stupidity, he closed down the game division responsible for some of Interplay biggest sellers, and fired all its personnel only days after it created a working demo of a long requested sequel to one of Interplay's most popular titles.

Interplay is still there. Herve has a small office for him and three or four others. He's sold off most his rights to the games Interplay made in the past, and he claims he has plans for a massive game project, if he can only get somebody to give him money. Since he drove interplay's stock off nasdaq and down to the value of copper penny, I can only wonder who would be so foolish as to give him financing to repeat his errors.

As I continue to look and hope that a position in a game company opens up for me, I think about Herve and the racing car he just bought. I also think about his offhanded comment about finding somebody to "cook" the books for him. I wonder if I will see him on CNN being cuffed by the SEC.

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